The Four Foot Four

Ceilidh and Barn dance in Somerset and beyond

Phil Preen: dance caller, tin whistle & bodhran

My name is Phil Preen, sometimes known as Phil The Hat or Phil “The”. I am almost a foot and a half taller than the requisite four foot four, so would still qualify for membership of the band even after decapitation.

I call the dances in the band, and may also play tin whistle or bodhran if the dancers have picked up the figures well enough for me to stop calling. I play a few tunes on anglo concertina, but I don’t really practice enough to be able to play it properly in the band. If you’re not careful, you might also hear me play the spoons, kazoo or swanee whistle occasionally too.

Much to my regret, I only got properly into folk music and dancing relatively late on, although it’s probably 25 years or so now, so I should probably be better at it really! I remember as a child singing songs in the car with my dad when going on holiday, and also singing and dancing at junior school, but I never really knew that this was something called folk music, and that was something that adults could do too! I was never in any of the cliques at school that seemed to be based around different musical genres such as punk, new-romantic, prog-rock, etc. I don’t think I really understood how people came to know that they liked one particular type of thing rather than another. I always used to say that I liked any type of music, but I did always prefer songs where you could actually make out the words, and therefore sing along.

In my late 20s I got involved with The Sealed Knot Society (battle re-enactments from The English Civil War – playing at Roundheads and Cavaliers) and we always used to have a sing-song in the pub in the evening after a battle. We had a small booklet of songs that people would sing from, which I loved, but then I started to think there must be other songs around. I discovered first Irish then English Folk music, when I started looking around for other songs to sing and started going to folk clubs which then led on to playing music, and then to dancing.

I first started playing for barn dances and ceilidhs with The ACME Dance Company way back in the last millennium. This was fronted by Eddie Reeve on melodeon and his partner Rose Gorringe calling the dances. The band imploded when Eddie and Rose went their separate ways, and that is when Martin Wildig and I formed The Bang On The Wall Band. I play a percussion set-up based around cajon, and nowadays usually call the dances too. I also sometimes call the dances for other bands including for Bellows, Scratchitt and Pluckitt and The Black Velvet Ceilidh Band.

As well as ceilidh dancing I am also a keen morris dancer. Having recently moved to Somerset I have joined my local side Cam Valley Morrismen. Julie and I are also considering starting our own mixed Cotswold morris side, as there isn’t anyone else nearby doing this style without us having to travel some distance. I am also still a member of Anstey Morrismen, Sergeant Musgraves Dance, The Hinckley Plough Bullockers and The Bunnies From Hell. I enjoy singing, mostly unaccompanied folk songs, at folk clubs. I was one of the founding ‘core members’ of the Grand Union Folk Club and also started the Poppy Folk Club along with my wife Julie and a couple of friends.

I have worked as a computer programmer / software engineer for pretty much all of my career. I am currently working part-time, mostly from home as Software and IT manager for Lacerta Technology Ltd. who design and manufacture scientific instruments. I also do some work as a website designer, so if you’re looking for a brand new website, please do get in touch.

I was born in Gloucester but grew up in Balderton and Newark in Nottinghamshire. I went to University (for a while) at Lancaster and moved to Loughborough for work in 1992. I then moved to West Bridgford, Nottingham when Julie and I first got together. We moved to Somerset in the summer of 2017. After we moved I started looking around for folk clubs and music sessions around the area, and one of the people I contacted was Colin Bowen. We kept bumping into each other at various sessions, and decided to try and put a new ceilidh band together. The result is Somerset’s finest new ceilidh and barn dance band – The Four Foot Four!